Teaching Self-Evaluation

We’re doing it.  We’ve jumped into high school. At home.  Eek!!

High school “counts” in different ways than all the other years and my son wants to go on to college.  Any college admissions process is going to want some sort of proof of Cub’s high school work and so we’re moving from a pretty lacksidaisical evaluation process to one that’s a bit more formal and recordable.

If you’ve read any of my posts before, you are probably aware that I am not a fan of grading.  I am, however, a fan of taking time to evaluate.  Our US culture is not always great at slowing down and taking the time to think about life and evaluate how things are going.  We tend to just mindlessly move along through life, ping ponging from one thing to the next and just throwing quick solutions at problems without being willing to evaluate and change things around if it isn’t working.

And so, we’re trying to figure out how to mindfully evaluate Cub’s work.  Here’s what I’ve learned.  Well . . . not really “learned” per se, as I pretty much already knew this:  Cub has extremely high standards.  For himself.  Which makes him a pretty poor self-evaluator.

By his request, we have a weekly conversation and he provides himself a grade.  Most of the time, he gives himself far lower than I would.  If he does think he did well, he’ll sheepishly hang his head and awkwardly say so.  Yes, part of this is typical development for a young teen.  Self-confidence and self-assurance are not the hallmark of being 13.  Part of this is high standards typical of gifted people.

Either way, accurate self-evaluation is a necessary life skill.  And clearly, it’s a skill that needs to be taught.  Simply sit in my therapy office for an afternoon and you’ll see adults who do not accurately evaluate themselves. 

A caveat . . . I am figuring this out as I go, so if you’ve got great ideas, I’d love to see your suggestions in the comments!

First, I’ve learned it’s important to clearly discuss what exactly is being evaluated.  Are we evaluating the quality of the final work?  The growth?  The effort put in?  The ability to regulate emotions while encountering the frustration of learning?  The creativity of thought?

Many of us seem to be preconditioned to believe that evaluation is about the end result.  I beg to differ.  A goal isn’t about achieving the end thing.  A goal is about the journey to get there.  It isn’t about getting the right answer.  It’s about how we got to the answer we got.

 For example, we’re using a type of Math that focuses on creative problem solving and allowing people to think through the math process.  Essentially, Cub is given several problems and is told to solve them.  There’s limited to no teaching ahead of time.  The goal is that he learn the process of problem solving and implementing various strategies.  He regularly has been evaluating himself poorly as he doesn’t achieve the “correct” answers, but he can justify how he got to the answers he did and he can find the computational errors and adjust his answers accordingly.  I, therefore, assess his growth and problem solving and critical thinking skills and would evaluate him higher.  We’ve been assessing different things and therefore get different results. 

I’ve learned to explicitly discuss what is being evaluated.  And, as a result, I’ve also learned to explicitly and mindfully consider the value of what is being evaluated and empower my son to choose according to his values.  What is actually important?  Are we evaluating this thing because it will actually lead to greater wellness and growth or are we evaluating this thing because it’s what expected?

Second, I’ve learned to have blatant discussions about his baseline functioning or skills.  To evaluate effectively, we have to know from where we’re starting.  If I’m learning a new instrument and have never played any music before, other than through my phone, my learning curve will be slower than if it’s the third instrument I’m learning and I already understand how to read music.

This includes understanding wiring glitches and gifts.  My son is gifted with creative storytelling, but has a wiring glitch called dysgraphia which makes the motor functioning required to move his creative stories from his head to the page difficult.  He needs to be aware of both his strengths and challenges if he’s going to evaluate appropriately.  It would be inappropriate to expect his sentence structure and handwriting to be beautiful and on a high school level.  It would be just as inappropriate to expect his creative thought and story to be simply par for the course of a 9th grader.

Additionally, I’ve learned to refocus his attention backward instead of just forward.  We often compare our work to what we would like our work to be in the end and forget to look back and see how far we’ve already come.  I see this all the time in my therapy practice.  People struggling with depression beat themselves up that they still lack motivation to clean their house, but they forget to see that three weeks earlier they couldn’t get out of bed and now they’ve been going for a walk daily.  It feels discouraging and provides a false evaluation if we are only looking at our end goal.  We have to focus on the work we have actually accomplished.  Besides, if, at the beginning or middle, we could already complete the tasks required at the end of a class, why take the class at all?  Effective evaluation focuses on what we’ve accomplished and where we’ve come from the baseline, not on how far we have left to go.

And finally, self-compassion and grace need to be taught and modeled.  Always.  Be mindful of mistakes, struggles, weaknesses, limitations.  Recognize that everyone has them.  We simply cannot be good at everything.  Even those of us with multipotentiality, we have strengths and weaknesses.  Be okay with that.  And respond with kindness.  To others.  To ourselves.  Harsh words have never been an effective motivator.